Zooming down a narrow road through the dark Amazon Rain Forest, inside of a freezing cylinder, proves a bizarre contrast to the sweltering heat in the city of Manaus. Long distance busses in both Venezuela and Brazil use either an “on” or “off” switch for the same cooling system as that of refrigerated commercial trucks. Prepared passengers cover their bodies, head and all, under thick blankets. Mare and I sit in our shorts. Mare tries to wrap her legs around the bus curtains for warmth, and we spoon for body heat. At the first stop, I get out and shiver in front of the driver, who laughs and allows me to retrieve our hammocks from the luggage below. Finally, our hammocks come in handy, as blankets.
We sleep for 8 out of the 12-hour night ride, before disembarking in the Brazilian city of Boa Vista where we hop into a collective taxi for the 3-hour trip through the borders and into the small Venezuelan town of Santa Elena de Uairen. Vladimir and Natasha, from Russia, dine with us at Posada Los Pinos, and tell us about their trek to Mt. Roraima. Vlad shares some hot sauce with us. The “Katara,” made with the heads and thorax of leaf-cutter ants. (crunchy)
The next morning, our hiking group of 17 folks squeezes into three four-wheel drive trucks. We represent the following nations: Spain, France, Poland, Venezuela, Brazil, UK, USA, Austria and Germany.
We hit it off immediately during the 2-hour ride through the Gran Sabana. Our 7 mile hike the first day takes us through grasslands and hills, before setting camp at Rio Tok. Rain sprinkles and then pours on us during the hike, keeping us soaked but cool, preferable to the hot sun. There is no shade out here.
We bathe in the river and fill our drinking bottles with the fresh water. Stories are told in Spanish, English and German, but our laughter sounds the same as we pass around a bottle of rum. Porters pitch tents in the rain while we dine on chicken and potatoes.
Mare and I do not sleep well, on the hard ground during the night’s torrential downpour. After some coffee and eggs in the morning, we hit the 8-mile portion of the trail which is more difficult, with steeper hills and vegetation changing from grass to ferns. We remove our shoes and cross two rivers, while wearing only socks, for better traction over slippery rocks. Holding onto ropes to prevent being swept into the current, Rio Tok is about thigh deep while Rio Kukenan is waist deep. Wow…our waterproof hiking boots prove to hold water inside extremely well. The rain pours off and on, a welcome relief in this hot, humid land.
This heart-pumping hike brings us to the Base Camp, which the group aptly names “Pig Farm.” The 17 of us squeeze under a small shelter trying to avoid the rain, and stand in mud and hay. Although soaked with sweat and rain, nobody complains. We laugh, pass around more rum, and our bond strengthens. The porters cook spaghetti to carb-load us in preparation for the difficult climb to the top of Mt. Roraima tomorrow morning. Susana, a Venezuelan woman who acquired her PhD in Chemistry from Stanford, inspires us with a story.
“I was a workaholic,” Susana says. “One day while on a plane I was working away on my laptop. A woman sitting next to me said, ‘Are you a human being or a human doing?’”
“That comment changed my life.” Susana quit her job shortly after and began traveling the world. She started her own consulting company, and works at a pace of her choice, careful not to relapse into a “human doing.”